Penn State Football: What To Watch For During The Pitt Game

Cay North
Sep 1, 2018; University Park, PA, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions head coach James Franklin congratulates quarterback Trace McSorley (9) after scoring a touchdown during the first quarter against the Appalachian State Mountaineers at Beaver Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew O’Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Going into the second week of college football, Penn State versus Pittsburgh might just be the most interesting matchup featuring a Big Ten team. It’s debatable, with Colorado versus Nebraska taking place earlier in the day, but the Keystone Classic is the game that features one of the top teams in the nation.

And in a rivalry environment on the road, a surprising result isn’t out of the question. Especially after Penn State’s lackluster start to the reason, a game that will surely give motivation to Pitt after watching their rivals stumble and nearly fall.

What should be expected from this game?

Pittsburgh rolled over Albany to open up their season, allowing only seven points and shutting out the Great Danes once the first quarter was over. They actually managed to run back the opening kick for a touchdown, which could sum up how the game went in general.

Maurice French, who scored the touchdown on the return, ended up adding to the lead with his second non-receiving touchdown of the day. The score came on an end around run, despite French’ being a receiver. It just goes to show that the Penn State team will need to work on their tackling going into this game, because Pitt has more weapons than Appalachian State did and the margin for error is much lower.

If there’s one player in that receiving corps that Penn State fans should be aware of, it’s Rafael Araujo-Lopes. For a player with only three catches, his stat line was very good. 50 yards overall, and two of those three catches were touchdowns. The number matches his total number of touchdowns from last year, showing that he’ll play a large role as a senior.

Pitt is starting an inexperienced quarterback who only played in four games last season, but that inexperience didn’t really show in the result against Albany. Kenny Pickett threw for 16 completions and a great 72.7 completion percentage, with two touchdowns to one interception.

Safety Nick Scott and linebacker Cameron Brown both had sacks in the Appalachian State game, but a stronger and more consistent performance from the defensive line would work wonders in helping Penn State to avoid another scare. One area where Penn State should have an advantage, however, is the running game.

No back finished with more than 100 yards, but the Penn State running backs were good when they needed to be. Miles Sanders had two touchdowns, while Ricky Slade scored in his very first game as a college player and had an average of 6.8 yards per carry with a small sample size. Will Slade get more carries against Pitt?

It wouldn’t be an unwise move from the Penn State staff. While passing ultimately won the game for PSU, it wasn’t consistent and had a sluggish start. Watch for the Nittany Lions to try establishing the run, to avoid putting too much pressure on quarterback Trace McSorley to carry the offense in the absence of NFL draftee Saquon Barkley.

Finally, it’s important to remember that the game is in Pittsburgh, and that the atmosphere will be more intense than a normal nonconference game. Penn State might be favored by just about everybody, but in a game like this, the unexpected always seems to happen at some point.

If you have any doubts that Pitt will be playing this game differently, head coach Pat Narduzzi summed it up himself.

“Anyone who wants to argue and say this is no different than any other week, it is. That’s a fact. If you want to ignore that, you can ignore it, but it’s a big game… I think our kids will be excited. They got a great football team. They’re talented, they have great players, and they have a great program, so we’re looking forward to having them come to Heinz Field again.”